The Hardest Sentence You’ll Ever Write

So you want to tell a tale. What do you do? Just sit down and start writing it from the beginning? Do you even know where to begin?

Well, the first step is a “simple” requirement…or so it would seem.

Your task, O Jedi Scribe, is to write one stinking sentence.

That’s it. One sentence. Now to create that sentence, you’re going to have to boil the entire narrative essence of your Epic Tale down to one sentence which focuses on an ACTION and a CHARACTER.

I will now admit that EVERY novel I have written start to finish was written by following the exercises Syd Field provides in his indispensable Screenwriter’s Workbook. (Pretty Hate Machine will be my fifth novel; all have been published. Four were published by a major Canadian publisher — think romance mill but for men — and my fifth is all my own.) Syd says if you follow his workbook exercises, start to finish, by the end of the book, you will have a complete screenplay. In my case, I had a complete novel. His process will work for any creative piece of writing that follows the immortal structure of having a beginning, middle, and end. What is that also called? The Three Act Structure.

Syd’s latest version of the book doesn’t require the one sentence exercise anymore – he’s requiring you write three separate paragraphs to represent Acts 1, 2, and 3. Then boiling each act into a sentence and combining these into the final statement that sums up the plot by action and character in three to four clean easily understood sentences.

I still like the old way he did it. ONE SENTENCE.

I’m wearing all the hat’s now. Writer, publisher, book hustler — creative writing teacher now, too.

Since starting Pretty Hate Machine, I’ve been supplementing my Syd Field Screenwriting School of Novel Writing process with something called the Snowflake. Randy Ingemanson is the popularizer of this system and I like it. It is even more in depth than Syd Field’s process. Snowflake can be adapted to any form of storytelling, just like Syd’s workshop can be used to plan and write a novel rather than just a screenplay.

Interestingly enough — Randy’s Snowflake starts with the same thing Syd’s does: one sentence. The boil down that captures the entire story, start to finish, in one stinking sentence. Now I think you’re starting to see how challenging this really is. Boil a 100,000 word novel down to one sentence. Boil a 2 hour movie down to one sentence.

If you can’t do that: you don’t have a story. Don’t waste your time writing it until you can translate the whole production into one sentence. What does it mean to focus on an ACTION and a CHARACTER?
Isolate the elements of action: what happens and who it happens to.

Here’s an example from my second installment of PHM. Yes, you can do this for anything with a beginning, middle, and end. Every scene you write should be a micro-structure of the 3 Act paradigm as well. What does that mean? A scene has a beginning, middle, and end. Just like the whole novel, screenplay, play, short story, etc.

So I was trying to arrive at the core essence of the scene I was writing. It’s the scene where Holland gets discovered.

“An action scene where Luke Holland’s cover is blown by Joe Kamel in the underground “Death Star” bunker of COL Michael Capricorn during a sex slave auction.”

See how that works? Now go do it. I’ll wait.

Let’s do it for the whole book: “A maverick detective, a Gonzo journalist, and a porn star fight to expose the federal government’s involvement in the worst schoolyard shooting in history while a super-secret strike unit infiltrates the center of the cyclone, the factory where little girls are turned into suicide juggernauts and unleashed.”

Clear on this now? Roger. Out.